"Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behavior, more so that we recognize or acknowledge." – Phil Zimbardo
Is surrendering your child to strangers a situational or dispositional act?
Does a mother abandon her child because of the circumstances she is in or because of the person she is and was raised to be? Was she pressured to conform to societal norms or did she spend her young years dreaming of having a baby so she could give it away to strangers or leave it in a dumpster or at a hospital?
Naturally, based on my point of view, I will say a mothers decision to abandon her child to strangers is situational. Many (usually those that profit from the sale of children or adoptees themselves) have openly disagreed with me. They choose to believe that a mother abandoning her child is dispositional. She wanted to. She enjoyed it. She has no regret. She is evil. She never wanted the baby. She met with an adoption counselor before her child was born. Clearly she did not want the child.
When trying to decide what caused a mother to surrender her child, many prefer to focus on her abilities, traits and motives rather than the situation she was in. These factors are often grossly overestimated (She could have changed her mind. She had a choice. She was not drugged). This results in what is commonly known as a fundamental attribution error. Said differently, fundamental attribution means that certain people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a mothers actions depend on what "kind" of person that mother is rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing her.
This attribution concerns me in reunion. If our children believe that we never wanted them, always planned on abandoning them, did it with knowledge and intent and glee, what can we do? Can we correct that attribution error? Will anything we do or say make a difference?
Researching fundamental attribution tells me that certain "debiasing" techniques have been effective in reducing the potency of the error. Two of those techniques are:
1. Taking heed of "consensus" information. If most people behave the same way when put in the same situation, then the situation is more likely to be the cause of the behavior.
Interesting. Does this mean if most of the mothers that are sent to maternity homes abandon their children, we might be able to suggest that the situation (the home and the influences it provides) are the cause of the resulting behavior? Or perhaps if you have a group of mothers told for nine months they are worthless and their baby is better off without them, they might actually end up believing that?
2. Asking oneself how one would behave in the same situation.
In my limited experience, this technique doesn’t work in adoption reunion. It is nearly if not completely impossible for a male to imagine himself in the same situation as his unsupported expectant mother. This technique works sometimes with our female children but not always. Many adoptees insist they would know better, they would do differently, they would never abandon their child. This is even less likely to work if the adoptee being asked the question was also pregnant and unwed but kept her child. She is unable to separate her and the support and knowledge she may have had from that which her mother did not.
To complicate the attribution error concern further, there is cellular memory. Cellular memory is the hypothesis that certain memories, habits, tastes are stored in cells in human bodies not just our brains (imprinting). There is research that suggests an abandoned child knows, feels, remembers, in every cell of their body that their mother left them. At the age the abandonment likely happened, they would have been unable to intellectually process the cause of the event (situation).
If this primitive memory meets up with an adult fundamental attribution error, does a mother have any chance in reunion with her child?